Saturday, February 01, 2014

The "Dancing Girl" from Mohenjo-daro

Isn't this little statue wonderful?

From the Wikipedia article:

A bronze statuette dubbed the "Dancing Girl", 10.8 centimetres (4.3 in) high and some 4,500 years old, was found in Mohenjo-daro in 1926. In 1973, British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler described the item as his favorite statuette:
"She's about fifteen years old I should think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There's nothing like her, I think, in the world."
John Marshall, another archeologist at Mohenjo-daro, described the figure as "a young girl, her hand on her hip in a half-impudent posture, and legs slightly forward as she beats time to the music with her legs and feet."[14] The archaeologist Gregory Possehl said of the statuette, "We may not be certain that she was a dancer, but she was good at what she did and she knew it".

I love the moments when one reads about some ancient human culture and suddenly comes across that  feeling: the person talked about or viewed could be someone here and right now, someone we can understand and appreciate as a human being,  the reminder of the humanity of all people who once were. 

I also love the girl in the statue and the work of whoever made it, because it is a statue of the person, not a mere visual symbol of characteristics which were deemed desirable for some wider purpose.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Getting Your Just Desserts

Or your just deserts.  For Fox News host Martha MacCallum they might be the same thing for women:

Fox News host Martha MacCallum asserted on Wednesday that women did not want special laws ensuring equal for equal work because they already were compensated “exactly what they’re worth.”
After President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address on Tuesday to call on Congress to end workplace discrimination practices that “belong in a Mad Men episode,” Fox News asked two men, liberal radio host Alan Colmes and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, to debate equal pay for women.
Carlson argued that women actually made more than men if the time they “voluntarily” took off work to raise children was factored in.

“The numbers don’t lie,” he insisted. “The losers in the Obama economy have been men.”
MacCallum accused politicians of talking about female workers like they were victims “who we need to make sure she gets what she deserves.”
“The numbers, when you look at them, do not bear out that there is a war on women in the workplace,” the Fox News host added. “And I think it’s a question of how liberals and conservative view what needs to be done for women.”

This is such a fun word soup.  First, everyone and their great-uncle feels free to talk about the meaning of various earnings, despite the fact that there are mountains of actual economic research on the topic of the gender gap in wages and related questions.  This feeling that one knows stuff without knowing it angers me, because of that Puritan streak I have:  Do the research before you open your mouth and bare your fangs.  And no, we cannot just say that women are earning exactly what they are worth, which means all women in this country and in all jobs.

Another example of this not-knowing-your-facts is the very common argument that men earn more only because they work more hours in the labor market.  That's because most studies still show a difference in earnings when the hours spent working are held constant (taken into account).  It is true that some of the difference in overall earnings between men and women has to do with different paid work hours (unpaid work at home is not taken into account in those comparisons), but it is not true that the whole difference can be attributed to worked hour differences.

Second, there's the idea, again, that the gendered roles of who take care of children doesn't matter at all, that "choice" is the explanation for why women choose certain jobs, that women freely "choose" to earn less, that women "choose" to take time off for childbearing and child-rearing and so on.  This is an assertion, not something that we can deduce from research, this idea that all the reasons for gender differences in earnings are voluntary on women's part.

I have written about the way the term "choice" is used in political arguments before.  But the main  point worth repeating is that choice is carried out within a set of constraints.  Those constraints are different, on average, for men and women, and the consequences of certain "choices" are also different.  This doesn't mean that there is no choice, just that to understand why we end up with the roles we do end up with requires a study of the wider framework in which they take place.  And here the role of the Republicans as the party which fights tooth-and-nail against maternity leaves, subsidized health care and in general the idea of women in the public sphere matters.  It matters because they are pulling the framework within which women make these "free choices" in one direction.

A lot more could be written about that quote, such as a careful analysis of the losers and winners in the "Obama economy" which conflates the administration's action and inaction with the recent recession with what Republican governors have done in their states to increase unemployment and so on, and which carefully moves the magnifying lens from the group which is really doing well (those on the top of the earnings pyramid) to a kind of gendered re-reading of the data. 

Why the latter is tricky is because of the recession effects:  Men are more likely to lose jobs first in recessions because they are more likely to work in the bellwether industries (construction, manufacture and transportation), but men are also more likely to see recovery in those jobs faster.  The recovery from the recession (such as it is) is still an ongoing process, and, as we should expect, the unemployment rates of men and women are coming back towards their usual rough equality. 

But the new jobs people are getting, both men and women, do look like not-so-great-jobs.  And the large unemployment differences are between whites on the one side and blacks and Latinos on the other side, another topic Fox News will not address.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Speed Blogging, 1/29/2014: On SOTU (Sorry), How To Have CEO Kids and the Frightening Outlines of Women

First, the SOTU speech.  I fell asleep before that started and so didn't watch it.  And then I decided not to write about it because the SOTU speeches of the past didn't much matter, even though I spent effort and time to analyze them.  Aren't you happy on my behalf?

Second, this article about how to bring up successful children:  The gist is to make your children like this:

It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.

Now, those children might end up really unhappy, because of that inner insecurity and because at the same time they believe that they are better than people from other groups.  But they have excellent impulse control so they will climb to the top of the social hierarchies!

Richard Kim talks back to the authors.   I still can't get over the idea that creating unhappy children is a Good Thing because they will be rich one day.  At least they can cry in a Rolls Royce, I guess.

Neither can I quite see how any of this would work if all racial and ethnic groups did the same thing, because the places at the top of the society are but few and getting fewer every year.  You might derange your kids for no good reason!

Finally, I'm not at all sure that the authors, Chua and Rubinfeld, have really looked at the data.  If certain groups of immigrants come into this country with high levels of education and other groups as refugees who have gone through hell and may not be able to read, well, their children might fare differently in the US, and you can't give that a nod and then just drive on holding your favorite parental-style theory.  And whether we have good data to distinguish the economic performance of Mormons from that of Protestants and Catholics, say, is something I don't know, but I wonder how much Mormons might help each other to get ahead and I also wonder what the data actually shows, once we standardize for all the relevant economic variables (education, location etc.).

Third, an American agreement with the fairly common idea that women are responsible for making heterosexual men think about sex:

A Southern Baptist pastor in Virginia has warned women in his congregation that they are sinning if their clothes allow others to see the “outline” of their bodies.
The Christian Post pointed out on Tuesday that HeartCry Missionary Society founder Paul Washer had posted the sermon to YouTube last week, where he says that God wants women to “adorn themselves with proper clothing.”
“That tells me that there is clothing that’s improper for a Christian woman,” the pastor explains. “That’s just logic.”

It's the same logic the Taliban used (and may still use) in Afghanistan:  The shape of a woman must not be visible through her burqa.

What about cardboard boxes (piled up high enough to cover all of me) with a periscope?  The advantage is that I could have all sorts of guns inside the box and nobody would know.  The disadvantages are pretty obvious.  But no outlines would be visible.

I have sometimes imagined what might happen if women had the ability to make themselves completely invisible.  You'd think that would be great for all the religious men who don't want to see women's outlines.  But then women could sneak into any place, without being spotted!  The horror of it.

I'm fed up with these arguments, because they take all agency away from men (uncontrollable beasts, men seem to be, in some religious thinking) and because my research into the question of women's clothing is that any amount showing, even if it is two eyes, would make some religious preacher tell us that women must cover up more.

This is not to argue that there should be no rules about what people wear, of course, just that the rules should not be so much more burdensome for women than in general. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why You Should Not Move To Scandinavia or to The Nordic Countries

This article is a nice adjustment to all that Scandinavia-worship, by the UK Guardian.  Read it and make sure that you don't want to move to the mosquito-filled ice-cold hell that is Northern Europe.  It is a dreadful place*.  Just don't go there!  You will become suicidal if you do.

Kidding there, because it's in my interest to have a lot of nature left over in case I desire to move Snakepit Inc. back into Finland.  But not completely kidding, because an important reason for those things which are going well in Scandinavian countries is social cohesion, and because there are a lot of mosquitoes and depressive people up there. 

And as Michael Booth,  the nasty-minded humorist at the Guardian,  writes:

The myriad successes of the Nordic countries are no miracle, they were born of a combination of Lutheran modesty, peasant parsimony, geographical determinism and ruthless pragmatism ("The Russians are attacking? Join the Nazis! The Nazis are losing? Join the Allies!"). These societies function well for those who conform to the collective median, but they aren't much fun for tall poppies. Schools rein in higher achievers for the sake of the less gifted; "elite" is a dirty word; displays of success, ambition or wealth are frowned upon. If you can cope with this, and the cost, and the cold (both metaphorical and inter-personal), then by all means join me in my adopted hyggelige (home).

Well, not really "as the humorist writes," because he writes from the outside.  That's why he is not sticking well enough for social cohesion.  If you get my point.  He thinks he is a tall poppy!  How dare he!  More seriously, the jury is still very much out on how the Scandinavian "miracle" would work in a more diversified society.

I think that the "ruthless pragmatism" argument is wrong, by the way.  The reason for that pragmatism is something which I have thought about a lot, and that has to do with how much rational thought and evidence is allowed to influence the political systems of various countries.  If I had to simplify a bit, I would say that the Scandinavian countries allow a lot more rational stuff to affect the political discourse than the politicians in most other countries, including the US. 

I don't know the reason for that, but I believe the differences are real**, and one reason why corruption and bribery are so rare in Scandinavian politics. 

To conclude, it seems that Michael Booth must have met me:

I am very fond of the Finns, a most pragmatic, redoubtable people with a Sahara-dry sense of humour.
There you go.   When I open my mouth sand falls out.

*As the story is humor I can't be bothered to correct all the mistakes Booth makes.  Just enjoy the parody.
**Based on both following the news and debates in Finland now and on what beliefs I had etched into my brain when I was growing up.  I come across all innocent and naive about the power of facts and logical arguments because I was made to expect that this is how the world works.  But do note that the difference is not huge or that Finns aren't watching soap operas from the US most of the time. 

No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act

This was passed in the US House but will not become a law.  It's still worth a closer look:

The House of Representatives passed a bundle of abortion restrictions Tuesday that would dramatically reduce the number of health insurance plans that cover the procedure. The vote was 227 to 188, with one lawmaker voting present
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7), sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would prohibit insurance plans sold in the new health care exchanges from covering abortion, and it would eliminate tax benefits for small businesses that purchase insurance plans covering abortion. The bill would also prevent the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised funds to subsidize abortion care for low-income women.
Currently, more than 80 percent of private health insurance plans include abortion coverage, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group.
The bill would not actually prevent federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortion because the Hyde Amendment has already done that for more than three decades.

Why is it worth a closer look?  Because the Republicans, when elected, seldom run on the promise to spend most of their time on abortion but that's what happens once they are in office.  Because there is no real movement to have an act called No Taxpayer Funding For Killing Innocent People Abroad With Drones, say, and we don't even really question why that is the case.

Monday, January 27, 2014

On A Bicycle Built For Two. Or the Current Politics of The Conservative Marriage According to Ross Douthat.

That's fun.  The current political discussion on marriage is not quite so fun.  The two halves of it which came together inside my brain-box have a lot of trouble staying together and, indeed, desperately wish to get divorced.

The first half is a recent study about divorce.  I haven't been able to read the original study yet, but most write-ups regard it as fairly well done.*  What the study authors argue is this:

Demographers Jennifer Glass at the University of Texas and Philip Levchak at the University of Iowa looked county-by-county at divorces for a study to be published later this month in the American Journal of Sociology. 
Their study controlled for the effect of poverty, which is greater in the southern Bible belt and is known to contribute to higher divorce rates. Even accounting for income and the higher rate of marriage overall in southern states — an alternative to unmarried cohabitation more common in less conservative households — divorce rates in counties with higher proportions of conservative protestants remained higher.

The religiously conservative states of Alabama and Arkansas have the second and third highest divorce rates in the U.S., the authors noted. at 13 per 1000 people per year while New Jersey and Massachusetts, more liberal states, are two of the lowest at 6 and 7 per 1000 people per year.
The strongest correlation showed that early marriage and low income among religious conservatives factor into the higher divorce rates. “Unpacking these variations, Glass and Levchak found that the high divorce rate among conservative religious groups is indeed explained in large part by the earlier ages at first marriage and first birth, and the lower educational attainment and lower incomes of conservative Protestant youth,” the authors wrote.

The study also argues that the divorce effect even works on people who live in areas with large numbers of conservative Protestants, even if they themselves don't belong to that group.  The tentative explanation the researchers offer is this:

According to their paper, it’s not just believers who are affected—simply living in an area with lots of right-wing evangelicals makes divorce more likely, because the prevailing community norms and institutions affect everyone. The more powerful Christian conservatives get, the worse the problem becomes. “One plausible interpretation of the results is that as conservative Protestant presence increases, elite conservative Protestant influence grows stronger, which results in policies and programs that do little to reduce divorce, but only increase early marriage,” write Glass and Levchak.
“One of the things that happens is that early marriage and parenthood in particular are bad times for very young women to be entering the labor force,” says Glass. “They withdraw from the labor force and withdraw from schooling to take care of their kids.” Meanwhile, she says, “it’s become very, very difficult for young men to support an entire family. Families that are formed early have a really difficult time making ends meet with the human resources they have at their disposal.”
So what do we have here?  Something that has actually been known for a while, in a fuzzier form:

The rates of divorce are considerably higher in the Republican heartland than in the Sodom and Gomorrah of the more liberal states (such as Massachusetts, the Sodom of conservative imagination).  Much of that is linked to greater poverty in the former, but some, at least, does seem to be linked to conservative Protestantism.  That it is conservative Protestants who most worry and fret over marriage makes a kind of sense, except that they blame the problems on liberals.

The second half:  Ross Douthat's recent column.  Douthat is a good example of those conservative religious people who blame divorce on liberal values.  He begins by suggesting that both sides in this political debate (the god-fearing conservatives and the Sodom folk) should make certain concessions:

Or both sides could be a bit more honest about the roots of marriage’s decline.

Honesty from conservatives would begin by acknowledging that policies championed on the right — mass incarceration in response to the post-1960s crime wave, Bain Capital-style “creative destruction” in response to Carter-era stagnation — have often made it harder for low-income men to find steady work and stay out of prison, and made women understandably wary of marrying them.
Then this honesty would continue with a concession that certain kinds of redistribution — especially if tied to wage-earning — might help make men more marriageable, families more stable, and touch off a virtuous interaction between the financial and the personal.

Right now, I think some conservatives — though not enough Republican politicians — are willing to concede these points. But I don’t see a readiness among liberals to make any concessions of their own, beyond the minimal acknowledgment that all things being equal, two parents are often better than one.
A more significant concession would be to acknowledge the ways in which liberalism itself has undercut the two-parent family — through the liberal-dominated culture industry’s permissive, reductive attitudes toward sex, and through the 1970s-era revolution in divorce and abortion law.

Bolds are mine.

The bolded first paragraph suggests to me that Douthat wants to see wage subsidies for low-earning men.  He's not spelling it out, but that's what the redistribution tied to wage earning must mean in this context.

And note that last paragraph, for the liberal-blaming.  This clashes with the findings of the Glass and Levchak study.  But it's also a hint that Douthat likes the idea of forcing marriage on people and the idea of keeping them married.  He talks about that later, when he offers various "compromises":

Many marriages, especially in the upper-middle class, were strengthened by caution and delay. But for couples with more limited resources, and more to lose from failure, no-fault divorce may have reduced the value of the institution and the sacrifices embraced on its behalf.
When liberals claim social conservatives don’t have any policy ideas for marriage promotion, then, they’re somewhat self-deceived. A sustained conservative shift on abortion policy and marriage law probably would, over the long term, increase the rate at which couples take vows and stay together, and improve the life prospects of their children.
So one hypothetical middle ground on marriage promotion might involve wage subsidies and modest limits on unilateral divorce, or a jobs program and a second-trimester abortion ban.
The idea of various abortion bans is to force women into marriages, the idea of making divorce more difficult is to keep people married, whether they wish to do that or not.  All this smells of forcing to me, and Douthat argues that the outcome is good because it is good for children to have two parents.

But here's the problem with that:  In the first half of this post about the marriage (or divorce) of the two thought types the problems of the conservative Protestant marriage culture boil down to the exact thing that Douthats dislikes:  They make divorce more likely.

Yet he wants people to be forced into that very type of marriage, one which favors getting married so early that the women haven't acquired an education which guarantees decent earnings later, one which favors the norm of early childbirth and the mother staying at home with the child or children, one which therefore results in young families with many mouths to feed and only one wage-earner.

What Douthat adds to that is the argument that people should be forced to take the stresses of that type of marriage without being able to leave it very easily because it is better for the children.  But here we enter the question whether any kind of marriage (even one that is all stress and fights, say) is better for the children than growing up in a divorced home.  Research suggests that this is not the case.

The question Douthat is not asking, really, is what type of marriages we wish to create.  That may be because he assumes that all people are pretty evil and must be made to live the way Douthat believes people should live, based on his conception of what divine rules on this are, or because he believes that in some weird sense all marriages are created equal, so the only question is how to push enough people into the marriage mold.

It's the marriage mold which matters here.  When we debate something like "marriage" we bring to the conversation our own deeper ideas what marriage might mean.  If I had to make a guess about Ross Douthat's deeper ideas in this context, I'd say that he believes in a certain kind of traditional marriage, based on heterosexuals marrying, the husband being the boss of the family, the husband earning all the money in the family and the wife doing all the child-rearing and all the household chores, and the number of children in the family being determined by either chance or by what the husband deems suitable.

That may be quite wrong.  But whenever I make that assumption about the conservative deeper ideas of marriage what conservatives say or write starts making sense within that narrow context:

Same-sex marriage is then clearly deplorable because how can we decide which of two men or two women should be bringing the bacon home and which one should be cooking it?  How can we keep child-rearing a purely female task if the parents are two men?  And who on earth is going to be the god-determined boss in such a family?

Likewise, the recent conservative statements about the government being Uncle Sugar for unmarried women or Wendy Davis' husband seen as a Sugar Daddy can best be interpreted within that narrow framework:  In the conservative worldview married women are like employees and married men are like the employers.  The employer pays for the work of the employee, and that work consists of housework and child-rearing and sex.  In return to that work, the employer funds and protects the employee and promises not to use other labor for those chores on the side, such as sex.**

If a woman is not carrying out the whole list of those tasks, then her husband (or the government) is seen as paying for nothing but sex.  Ann Coulter called Wendy Davis a kept woman, because her husband helped her to get an education.  Mike Huckabee sees the role of the government as a way to bypass the delivery of marital work to the proper employer of the married woman which is her husband.

What do you think of that interpretation?  Do note that I'm NOT saying that marriages are like that or that husbands are like that or that wives are like that or that marriage cannot be absolutely wonderful and delightful, only that a certain strain of conservative thought is based on those implicit (and economic) assumptions.

This also explains why married women in the labor force are still seen as problematic among some social or cultural conservatives.  The more time a woman spends outside the home, the less time she has for that proper labor that married women are assigned in the conservative thinking, especially child-rearing.  And a woman bringing in money is also interfering with the assigned tasks of the conservative husband which is to be the wallet for the whole family unit.  Because his role as the family CEO is based on that role, anything that threatens it is of grave concern.

OK.  Now go and read Douthat's column again.

*This is one critique which argues for problems in the study but even its writer agrees that the main conclusions apply. The church-attendance stuff the author uses to differentiate between those young Protestants who stay married and those who do not is, by the way, trickier to use than he or she implies.  That's because the causality between divorce and church attendance is very likely to go the other way:  Young people attending church regularly who then get divorced might stop attending church regularly.  Thus, it's not at all clear that regular church attendance protects against early divorce.  --  We need time series data to test for the most likely direction of causality there.

**Adopting this approach finally let me understand why one conservative writer, Danielle Crittenden, in her book (What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman) argued that men and women make similar size sacrifices for marriage when she tosses her career plans out of the window and when he agrees not to have a mistress.

I read that book years ago and could never understand how such a wild comparison could be made.  Aren't the women, too, agreeing not to have lovers, and why is that not a sacrifice?  But within the conservative framework of marriage as an  employer/employee relationship this makes sense.